Friday, April 3, 2015

Ungraded Success Part 3

Grades are meaningless, yet teachers, students, and parents have been indoctrinated to expect and place undue weight on them as indicators of learning. As a teacher I have always wanted to throw out grades in my classroom but did not know how. Last year I attempted to incorporate grade substitution with extra feedback on journals that funneled into a graded assignment. This wasn't close enough.

Then last fall I had a brainstorm. I will attempt to create as close to a no-grades classroom as I can manage in the spring with my seniors in speech class. My rationale was this: speech class is really a coaching-style class, where students' learning is tied to their progress over time with practice and feedback. Okay, that's not different from much else in school…making it the perfect class to experiment with. Plus, these are second-semester seniors whose grades are no longer tied to class rank or valedictory selection. I decided to go for it and sent a letter home to parents inviting comments or questions, since most of them are also in the indoctrination pool.

I knew I needed student input, if not their initial buy-in (see my Part 1 post). So we discussed the qualities of an effective speaker and then I had students enter their thoughts into a google form which was converted into this spreadsheet. Then I had students color-code the form according to the kind of trait: smoothness, eye contact, and so on. We looked at the color-coding for frequency. You can see, for example, that the yellow trait, posture/movement, was named frequently. We knew that was an important trait to coach and assess in our speech class.

What about teacher guidance and expertise? I collaborated with students to create the rubric. For example, my experience as a speech teacher told me that I needed to assess some things they didn't mention, like practice. I took their input and put it into this form, which I call a "success rubric." I gave students a full week to comment on it, and we spent some class time talking about the language. One student wanted a "goals" section so we added that. 

After each speech, I have a conference with each student individually (while other students are working on another project) when we look at the rubric together and identify areas of strength and areas where students can grow. These conferences give me the opportunity to illuminate challenges students are facing, identify places I've seen progress, and help them set goals for their next speeches. These conferences are well worth the extra time they take.

Finally, you are probably wondering about the grades I am required to submit about every five weeks. If you look at the form, you'll see there are four columns of descriptors with no grades or numbers at the top of each column. Superimpose A, B, C, and D over these and you'll see how it works out. I hate this part of the process, because we still have to come down to a letter.

However, I do think students are starting to think less about those letters, and more about their own learning. I call this ungraded success.


  1. Thanks for sharing your process. We're moving away from letter grades in my district/school albeit with younger students than yours. Looking for some ungraded success as well.